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(1998) (Emily Watson, Rachel Griffiths) (R)

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Drama: Two musically gifted sisters deal with their talents, and the close-knit competition it generates between them, as they grow up in 1950's England.
Ever since they were young girls, Jackie (AURIOL EVANS) and Hilary Du Pré (KEELEY FLANDERS) have been very close sisters. However, their musical talent -- Hilary as a flutist and Jackie with her cello -- forged a competitive spirit between the two fostered by their proud parents (CHARLES DANCE and CELIA IMRIE).

With one gaining fame and adoration until falling into the other's shadow of success, the sisters grew up in 1950's England relatively happy when not envious of the other's accomplishments. Soon, however, Jacqueline (EMILY WATSON) hits the big time and tours Europe, while Hilary (RACHEL GRIFFITHS) decides to abandon music and marry her sweetheart, Kiffer Finzi (DAVID MORRISSEY), a conductor who previously swept her off her feet.

Gradually, the sisters drift apart from one another. While Hilary raises a family on her farm, Jackie marries pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim (JAMES FRAIN) and the two acclaimed musicians travel and perform around the world. It's not long, however, before the strain of touring and the onset of a debilitating disease soon force the sisters to contemplate the choices they made in their lives as well as their relationship with each other.

Unless they're fans of someone in the cast or of classical music, it's not very likely.
For language and sexuality.
  • EMILY WATSON plays a gifted cellist who starts to behave erratically when an illness and her loss of enthusiasm cloud her mind. Along the way she cusses some and eventually convinces her sister's husband to have sex with her.
  • RACHEL GRIFFITHS plays that sister who gives up her budding musical career to raise a family. Reluctantly, she agrees to allow her husband to sleep with Jackie with the belief that it may help her in some way.
  • DAVID MORRISSEY plays that husband and former conductor who also reluctantly agrees to have sex with Jackie.
  • JAMES FRAIN plays Jackie's pianist/conductor husband who cares for her during her turn for the worse (although it's implied he's somewhat unfaithful toward the end).


    OUR TAKE: 6.5 out of 10
    Based on the true life story of Jacqueline Du Pre -- reportedly one of the most gifted musicians of the 20th century who died at the age of forty-two from multiple sclerosis -- and adapted from the novel, "A Genius in the Family," written by her siblings, Hilary and Piers Du Pré, "Hilary and Jackie" is a compelling look at the life of a classical musician as well as the lasting effects of sibling rivalry.

    While not a happy story by any means, the film does feature some strong performances from its leads, as well as an unconventional, but welcomed approach at telling its story. Although the film initially appears to be a straightforward -- albeit somewhat haphazardly constructed -- chronological recounting of the sisters' lives, about two-thirds of the ways through it suddenly hits the brakes, backs up and then retells the story, but this time from another character's viewpoint.

    The effect, while certainly not new, fortunately hasn't been overused and will be novel to most moviegoers. Thus, while this rewind feature may be a bit unsettling for those who prefer linear story telling, it does make the film much more interesting than it initially appears it will be. Until that point, the picture simply seems to be meandering along toward its conclusion without a steadily strong narrative skeleton (beyond the progression of time) to keep things in order.

    Although first-time feature film director Anand Tucker and cinematographer David Johnson keep the otherwise sedentary musical performances visually interesting by swinging around the performers like an irksome deer fly, the film reaches its false conclusion without much of anything spectacular really happening and the audience is left wondering, "Is this it?"

    By heading backwards in time and remounting the story from another perspective, however, Tucker not only allows the moviegoer to see the events in an entirely different fashion, but also explains what really occurred in the first telling. By adding to, and expounding on those elements, the film becomes that much more satisfying and rewarding.

    Storytelling effects aside, however, it's the fabulous performances from the leads that really make the film work. Emily Watson ("The Boxer"), who was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar for her work in "Breaking the Waves," is simply stunning as the ill-fated and troubled musician. Exquisitely playing the gamut of emotions one would expect from a woman who experiences the highs and lows of fame and tragedy and everything in between, Watson perfectly plays the role and should receive another nomination for her tremendous performance.

    Equally good, but in a less showy way, is Rachel Griffiths ("Cosi," "Muriel's Wedding"). Playing the sister who eventually backs away from the competitive world in which she realizes she can no longer flourish, Griffiths gives her character subtle nuances that play well against her more successful sister. Once things turn around regarding Jackie's health, however, her portrayal gets even that much better, and while it's not an aggressive performance like Watson's, it's equally as good.

    Supporting performances from the likes of James Frain (who was also quite impressive in "Elizabeth") and TV actor David Morissey are solid and nicely complement the work provided by the leading ladies.

    Working from the script by Frank Cottrell Boyce ("Welcome to Sarajevo"), Tucker includes some nice moments throughout the film, such as Jackie spreading her home-laundered clothes on her hotel bed to remind her of home. There's also an intriguing and mysterious encounter the two young sisters have with a stranger on the beach. While the scene bookends the film and its second appearance explains the first and everything in between, it also beautifully wraps up the story.

    While not for everyone's tastes -- those who liked "Shine" are the likely appreciative audience -- the film definitely gets better the more time one gives it to develop. Although not a happy tale by any means, the strong and poignant performances make it worth recommending. We give "Hilary and Jackie" a 6.5 out of 10.

    Here's a quick look at the content found in this R-rated film. Profanity rates as an extreme with 10 "f" words and a small assortment of others. Several sexual encounters of varying degrees occur (including one sister wanting to sleep with the other's husband, which finally occurs with that sister's eventual consent), as does some limited and brief, nonsexual nudity.

    Beyond some social drinking and the thematic issues of a person slowly dying from multiple sclerosis, as well as that of sibling rivalry, the rest of the film is rather void of major objectionable material. As always, however, should you still be concerned with the film's appropriateness for you or someone in your home, we suggest that you take a closer look at what's been listed.

  • People have drinks at a reception, including the sisters (now adults) who have champagne.
  • Later, the sisters drink more champagne in bed.
  • Kiffer and the sisters have wine.
  • Kiffer and Hilary have wine.
  • People have drinks at several more receptions (including Jackie and Daniel).
  • Jackie's knee has some bloody scrapes on it after she's run nude through the woods (we don't see the running or nudity, until a brief glimpse of her sitting on the ground).
  • We hear and then see that Jackie lost her bladder control.
  • Both Jackie and Hilary have some of both toward the other and their success.
  • Some may see the whole arrangement allowing Kiffer to have sex with Jackie (with Hilary's consent) as having some of both.
  • It's suggested that Daniel is unfaithful to Jackie late in the stage of her illness when he doesn't come home for the weekend and calls from another woman's house (where there's a baby that may or may not be his).
  • A scene where Hilary finds Jackie nude in the woods (having stripped off her own clothes) and behaving irrationally may be somewhat unsettling to some viewers.
  • Scenes where Jackie hallucinates (shot in a purposefully disconcerting fashion) and later where her body convulses from her illness may be unsettling to some viewers.
  • None.
  • Phrases: "For f*ck's sakes," "Screw" (sexual), and "Bloody."
  • From childhood through adulthood, Jackie likes to blow raspberries.
  • None.
  • A bit of dramatically suspenseful music occurs a few times.
  • None.
  • At least 10 "f" words (some also said in foreign languages -- according to Jackie), 2 "s" words, and 2 uses of "For God's sakes" and 1 use each of "Oh my Lord," "Good God" and "Oh God" as exclamations.
  • Jackie asks Hilary (about Kiffer), "So, have you been with him?" (sexually). Hilary replies that she hasn't and then asks, "Why? Have you been with somebody?" The two then set out to read each other's minds concerning such matters, and come to the conclusion that Jackie has, but Hilary hasn't.
  • Hearing that Hilary is to be married, Jackie gets out a diaphragm and shows it to her sister, stating, "Do you know what this is? It's a Dutch cap. It's a contraceptive." As Hilary examines it, Jackie states that Kiffer doesn't love her, but instead "only wants to get into your knickers." She then adds, "You don't have to get married every time you fancy a screw."
  • With the kids asleep inside the house, Hilary and Kiffer start to fool around outside and then get into the back of their station wagon. He playfully puts his head up under her sweater, and then gets on top of her. The unexpected arrival of Jackie, however, causes them to stop and compose themselves (with him zipping up his zipper).
  • Jackie whispers to Hilary, "I want to sleep with Kiffer." Later that night, Jackie enters their bedroom and caresses Kiffer's chest, but Hilary, feigning being asleep, puts her arm across her husband's chest and Jackie leaves.
  • We see Jackie sitting nude in the forest, but due to her posture and the camera angle, we only briefly see her bare breast.
  • Hilary briefly tries to convince Kiffer to have sex with Jackie, "to prove that somebody loves her," but he declines.
  • Later, however, we see Kiffer having sex on top of Jackie (a head and shoulders shot that shows movement and includes sounds). We then see Hilary who hears the sound of their bed, and the next morning, Jackie says that's exactly what she needed and thanks Hilary for allowing it (Hilary isn't too happy).
  • We see Kiffer on top of Hilary on their bed (he between her legs, but both are clothed) as they passionately kiss with heavy breathing, but they then stop once she hears her sister playing the cello.
  • We see Jackie and Daniel sitting up nude in bed hugging each other (but don't see any explicit nudity), implying that they slept together.
  • Miscellaneous and background characters smoke at receptions and on the street.
  • The two sisters are occasionally jealous of the other's success, especially when they're younger.
  • The consensual decision to allow Jackie to have sex with Kiffer causes some tension between him, Hilary and Jackie.
  • The family must deal with Jackie's illness.
  • The historical accuracy of this true story.
  • Competition among siblings and being jealous of others' accomplishments.
  • Multiple sclerosis and the effect it has on people (that's what Jackie has).
  • None.

  • Reviewed December 8, 1998 / Posted on December 30, 1998

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